Like magic: The Old Man And The Sea, Ocean Palmer, and a fighter named Tuki
The last time I met with Ocean Palmer in person was the Sydney summer of 2019. Pre-pandemic. When Corona was a beer you ordered, not something you avoided.
I wore sparkles, in the daytime, on Bondi beach. It was that kind of reunion. The kind that ignites ideas and relieves the mind of its daily rinse and repeat. An occasion. He was in town to meet with movie big wigs who were discussing how his penned characters might translate to the big screen. A process I’ve since come to know as both exhausting and more often than not, fruitless.
We reminisced on days past.
For me, London in your 20s proved a worthy main character moment. For better or worse, I was the protagonist. My own beginning, middle, and end. For him, London was a creative playground. A Raven of St. James.
Hailing from opposite ends of the globe and generations, what our unlikely friendship lacked in appearance, it made up for in interests, namely arts and sports. The author and the fashion stylist: a motley duo. He helped me navigate the chaos of London via storytelling and advice. The latter was more easily absorbed when its delivery came with a side of wine.
To this day, we have maintained our friendship and continue to write back and forth, sharing our main character moments. The same moments which proved to be the linchpin of our London experiences.
When New Approach won the Epsom Derby for us at Epsom Downs in 2008, we were alongside the owner. “It’s like magic….” he sang, before shouting the entire Queens enclosure to a free bar for the remainder of the day.
The song still sounds in my mind. They are the memories you cling to when you’re forced into lockdown for months. And yet they’re never enough.
Plenty….but not enough.
And so it was perfect timing when a manuscript should appear in my email one particular lonely hour, mid throes of what felt like lockdown’s longest night. Ocean had sent me the (non) sequel to one of my favourite literary characters: Tuki Banjo.
With Sydney under lock and no access to a printer: I put on my sparkles, poured a glass of wine, and read the 312 pages on my battery-challenged iPhone 8.
Lockdown required an unwavering resilience from us all, and it was lucky I had the company of Tuki, but it also presented an opportunity for us to turn inward. So naturally, Ocean was the first person I asked for a book recommendation when I wrote to him describing the intention behind my newly formed Book Club. A place where writers and friends can meet and discuss ideas, big or small. A space to fire up the imaginations and dive headfirst into nectarous narratives and main character moments, I wrote.
The response was immediate and definite.
“There’s only one you need, he said. The Old Man And The Sea.”
And so it was that The Old Man And The Sea became my book of choice.
You’ve likely read The Old Man And The Sea. It’s one of the most famed ah-ha! literary moments ever written, but the story behind its penning is as worthy of your attention. An email exchange with Ocean a few days back uncovered a little slice of history in a place called Bimini, a myriad of stories, including his own, owing to a tiny island of 1300 people about 50 miles east of Ft Lauderdale in the Bahamas. Part of Ocean’s book 12 Miles to Paradise is in fact, set there.
The Old Man and the Sea was based on a fishing trip Hemingway took off the coast of Bimini. He and his buddies caught a big marlin that got attacked by sharks. Then he went to Cuba and wrote the story. He’d stay in a room at The Compleat Angler Hotel, a watering hole of legends until it burned to the ground and the owner died trying to save a guest. Ocean himself would stay in his very same room; soaking up the atmosphere and writing his own novels with help from the ghost of Ernst Hemingway.
The hotel is now gone. They never rebuilt on the spot, per Bahamian tradition.
Since Genting (a foreign gambling interest) built a casino there and destroyed the soul of the place, Ocean rarely returns and yet his love for the island has led him to raise enough money to rebuild the baseball field for kids after a hurricane ripped through a few years back, and to put computers in the schools. Kids would get access to computer time by reading books.
One book = one hour of screen time. A winning formula and what I’d call a main-character version of an old-fashioned Book Club.
Ocean is currently working to get the (non) sequel of Tuki published as well as being mid-rinse and repeat cycle of bringing Tuki to our screens, sans help from The Compleat Angler Hotel where he’d once “get drunk as a skunk downstairs and trudge up the steps to Ernie’s room.
Did it many times. Plenty….but not enough. Never enough”.